Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Reflection on Yesterday's Post

Is English crazy? Sometimes.

However, I have really learned a lot from Wordcraft about our language and about linguistics. Indeed, I am now reading Ferdinand de Saussure, "Course in General Linguistics" for a Linguistics 101 course that we have opened on Wordcraft. Please feel free to join us as I seem to be the only student, though there are a number of excellent teachers!

The book itself has quite an interesting history. In 1906 Saussure began teaching a revolutionary course in linguistics. It was really from this course that structuralism developed and now has been applied to other areas, such as art, architecture, anthropology, economics, folklore, literary criticism, and philosophy. Saussure analyzed language as a formal system that revolved around the social use of verbal signs, rather than the real-time dialects. Saussure's students published the book, from their notes, after his death in 1913 (the book was published in 1916). It has become a seminal piece of literature for the study of linguistics.

While I am not finished with my study of Saussure yet (I've just started; join me!), it has already changed my thinking about language. The object of study for linguistics, according to Saussure, is the spoken language. The written language is merely a way to represent the spoken language. When you think of it that way, you can see why linguist are descriptivists and how that is truly the reality of language. Prescriptivists, while often helpful in fostering understanding, get too bogged down with the old ways of doing things. They surely aren't linguists or experts in language, at least according to Saussure.

How does this relate to yesterday's post? Well, language continually changes, so confusion is inevitable. Zmj, on Wordcraft, recommended that we do a total overhaul of spelling (orthography) every couple of hundred years or so. That sounds like a great idea to me. More on this tomorrow...(unless I get bogged down!)

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